Monday, 26 October 2020

The Occasional Backroom: Sasha Dugdale

Photograph by Zima Zima

Great delight to see Sasha Dugdale in the Backroom today. There have been so many good poets in here, I've had to redecorate. I haven't seen Sasha since the time soon after the launch of 'Oxford Poets 2002' when she put me right on the spelling of Felix Dzerzhinsky. Since then she has gone from strength to strength. She is a wonderful, questioning and uneasy poet. Her latest book, 'Deformations' for instance includes a section of poems on Eric Gill, a wonderful artist who sexually abused his kids and his dog, and slept with his sister. The poems don't come to the obvious conclusions, or are even based on the obvious questions. Based on Gill's own notes and diaries the work is a kind of ghostly journey through his life and our own reactions to what we know. Because of that, every sentence and every scene, mundane, innocent or otherwise, takes on a resonance we put there ourselves. We help create the poetry in a sense. The book also contains a Homeric homage called 'The Pitysad' which sets the Odyssey in a contemporary landscape. 'Deformations' has been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. There's a link to the Carcanet book below. And you should also put a fiver on her to win- I have. 

Sasha Dugdale has published five collections of poetry. She won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem for 'Joy' in 2016 and a Cholmondeley Award in 2017.  Most recently 'Deformations' (Carcanet, 2020) has been shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. She is a translator of Russian poetry and prose and in 2020 she won a PEN Translate Award for her translation of poetry by the Russian poet Maria Stepanovathe. Sasha Dugdale is current writer-in-residence at St John’s College, Cambridge. 

Here she reads Dawn Chorus, a great antidote to all these poems about the romance of birds at dawn.

Dawn Chorus
March 29, 2010

Every morning since the time changed
I have woken to the dawn chorus
And even before it sounded, I dreamed of it
Loud, unbelievably loud, shameless, raucous

And once I rose and twitched the curtains apart
Expecting the birds to be pressing in fright
Against the pane like passengers
But the garden was empty and it was night

Not a slither of light at the horizon
Still the birds were bawling through the mists
Terrible, invisible
A million small evangelists

How they sing: as if each had pecked up a smouldering coal
Their throats singed and swollen with song
In dissonance as befits the dark world
Where only travellers and the sleepless belong.

Red House (Carcanet, 2011)


Waxy sporadic grass knitting the sand…

A loudspeaker on a car proceeds slowly up the far quay
and a wedge of sandpipers lifts in fright from the shore:
The circus king is back for one last stand!
Last performance of the season – tonight!

His old gardening jacket hangs like a phantom behind the door
I have a febrile energy for undoing endings
tying the old twine to new twine, so when he came to me in a dream
and asked to come back I was surprised
to find myself rejecting him one last time

pouring myself a solitary drink of seawater
and reminding him of how we saw the old vessel of his body
and it was no longer fit-for-purpose
could not be recycled or rewound
like string, or green glass or driftwood.

The whole place reeks of him, who in life smelt of railways
sugar soap and the commuter tang. Sand, salt,
thrift and rotting wrack, and stubbornness:
a vast firewood stack, a few elderly tools revived
with rags and oily fingers to massage working parts,

string tied into rolls of barbed wire.
I am walking today on the hollow old dune
September chill, the children are off buying shoals
of pencils and the circus cut-outs on the sand bank
are blanketed up for the year.

What are years? They last no longer than the tide.
I read the tables, I pore over them and seem to find relief
in the mathematical appearance of water
and how by degrees it creeps upon us,
another ten metres to swill around the back gate.

Last performance of nostalgia out here, where it burns
with an acrid smell. Throw on an armful of regret, it fires up
odd-flamed like rubber or plastic flotsam
or household chemicals glugging themselves empty.
My fingers smell like his.

This poem, reprinted from the SPL website, was written as part of ‘The Blue Crevasse’ project, marking the centenary of W.S. Graham in 2018.

More poems here:

A Profile and interview of Sasha here:

Link to 'Deformations':

1 comment: